To date in this series we’ve covered what might be considered entry-level cameras: small, affordable, with basic but important features. We’ve seen that the Canon SD1100 IS makes a good reference camera in this class. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 is missing only a few features of the Canon, and costs less. Similarly, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 and the Sony DSC-W170 cost a little more than the Canon, but give you some useful extra features, especially some added zoom range at the wide-angle end.
So, what is beyond those nice, pocketable $100+ to $200+ digicams? Well, the obvious alternative is a camera with a much bigger zoom range. The four pocket cameras I covered previously only have medium telephotos (114mm to 160mm). If you really want to get close, for sports, events, and landscape work, you’ll need a lens that extends twice as long or better.
The logical choice for value shoppers in the “normal camera with a pretty good telephoto” is the Canon SX110 IS. The SX 110 has a 10X zoom lens (compared with 3X to 5X for the other cameras we’ve discussed). That means it extends from 36mm (sort of wide) to 360mm (pretty long telephoto). A 360mm telephoto, with image stabilization is probably as long as you can handhold (if you’re lucky). Beyond that you need a tripod, which kind of defeats the point of having such a small camera in the first place.
What do you give up with the Canon SX110? Well, not much. The price is about $230, which is in the range we’ve been talking about. The main sacrifice is that these longer zoom cameras are bigger. I didn’t say big, because the SX110 is pretty small, but it is bigger than the true pocket digicams. The SX110 is 4.4” wide whereas the Canon SD1100 IS is 3.5” wide. The SX110 is 2.8” high whereas the SD1100 is 2.3” high. The biggest practical difference is that the SX110 is 1.8” thick, compared with 0.9” for the SD1100 – which makes it harder to slip into a pocket.
Other than that, and the fact that the SX110 uses AA batteries rather than Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries, the SX110 imposes no great sacrifice. It’s larger size even allows Canon to give you a 3” LCD.
Well that’s almost too good to be true, and it is. If you are really interested in telephoto work, you’ll probably be shooting something that moves from time to time. In my experience that means you will become frustrated with the lack of a viewfinder on the smallest long-zoom digicams like the Canon SX110 IS. Holding an LCD 18” from your face and tracking a toddler, a bird or a football player is a challenge. On top of that, your arms are much more prone to shake in that posture. The solution is a camera with a viewfinder. It is easier to track movement, and your arms can be formed into a more stable human tripod resting against your torso.
For an easy to recommend camera in this class, Panasonic again comes to the rescue. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 has an 18X zoom lens that goes from 27mm to 486mm. That covers 99% of what you’re likely to want to do (note the gain at the wide angle end as well as in the telephoto direction). The price is a reasonable $300.
It has an eye level electronic viewfinder that helps with tracking action. Electronic viewfinders are not as useful as optical viewfinders, but the latest EVFs are much better than nothing. One problem is that the resolution of EVFs is lower than simply looking through glass. Equally problematic, EVFs have to adjust for rapid changes in lighting, something they do imperfectly (it take time for them to give a clear image of sun and then shade for example). You eye can adjust much faster. But, as I say, this is still better than looking through an LCD 18” away when you’re tracking movement.
The Panasonic FZ28 is also bigger than semi-pocketable cameras like the Canon SX110. The FZ28 is pretty compact when you see it (don't be thrown off by the mini-SLR styling, the FZ28 is much smaller than an SLR) at 4.8” wide by 3” high by 3.5” deep. That compares with the SX110 at 4.4” x 2.8” x 1.8”. Again, the sacrifice is in depth and in this case, the extra depth means you really can’t put the FZ28 in a pocket at all, unless it is a big coat pocket. But a purse or belt pack is perfectly workable.
Other items are up to par, but don’t distinguish the FZ28 to any great degree. The FZ28 has a 2.7” display. It uses Lithium-ion batteries. The sensor is 10 Megapixels. I do generally like the control layout on most Panasonic camera, and the FZ28 has Panasonic’s standard interface (some makers, like Sony, can’t resist doing a mostly new interface each time they do a new type of camera, which makes it hard to upgrade smoothly).